I play the guitar and I currently have five of them. Every time I am looking at another instrument my wife asks, “Don’t you have enough guitars?” I always have the same reply, “They are like golf clubs babe.” My theory is guitars are like golf clubs; you can play 18 holes with a putter, but why would you? Beethoven sounds best on a classical guitar and Hendrix; well you have to play that on a Stratocaster. They have the same notes on their fretboards, but each guitar has a tone that suits the music you are playing. The same logic can be applied to firearms; in fact, this logic should be applied when making choices for the mission. In other words, pick the right tool for the job. In this article, I will be discussing weapons and equipment for protection teams, but this same method could be applied to buying a firearm for personal or home defense.
In the executive protection field, there seems to be a tendency to rely heavily on handguns and in some situations, this makes sense. A pendulum swings between security and signature in this business, overt to covert. There is a certain amount of security in blending in and going unnoticed, and concealing a handgun is easier than a rifle or even a submachinegun. Arming your team with only a handgun makes sense sometimes; in fact, there have been times in my career that my team had to operate without firearms at all. The problem arises when the threat situation suggests the need for more firepower, and the team fails to adapt to their operating environment. I have personally seen teams resist carrying rifles in hostile environments out of laziness or ignorance, or both. On a mission in Iraq with the Secretary of Defense, I witnessed agents who refused to carry an M4 in favor of an MP5K, for no other reason than it was easier to carry. I suspect there was the CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor involved as well. I am sure we have all seen that person who wears a shoulder rig improperly, or some other ridiculous gear setup, for no other reason than convenience. The thigh holster with the mounted magazine pouch comes to mind. You know the setup that forces the Heisman Trophy-style reload. The other side is the “geardo” who is unnecessarily loaded down with all the latest tactical swag. They remind me of the Jeep people who feel the need to own every item in the J.C. Whitney catalog.
Arming and equipping a team for any mission should start with an assessment of the threat, the environment, and the available resources. It should arrive at a set of required capabilities that in turn, should lead to the required arms and equipment. I know some of you are thinking this is mission planning 101, but you would be surprised at the nonsense that is out there. Everyone is searching for that one weapon that works for everything. I admit I would love to carry one weapon and worry about the logistics for only that weapon. However, the perfect weapon for all situations does not exist. Until they invent the phasor from Star Trek, with settings from stun, to vaporize, to breach, we will have to carry more stuff. Our toolbox will have to contain more than just a set of vise grips. I work closely with some protection teams at high levels in the military and even they are on a constant search for the perfect weapon. I implore all leaders to figure out a way to make more non-standard weapons, ammunition, and equipment available to teams tasked with these missions. A weapons locker approach linked to required capabilities is a more effective approach than searching for the Holy Grail weapon.
For executive protection, I consider a few capabilities to be the baseline when choosing weapons. First, the team needs the ability to blend in to the public as much as possible while retaining the ability to respond to threats quickly. Most teams understand this concept and fill this need with handguns. This works until the need for slightly more concealable firepower arises. PDWs, submachine guns, or small carbines fill this gap nicely. The issue I see teams struggle with, is the concealability of these types of weapons. For me, if it cannot be effectively concealed and quickly employed, it does not meet my blending-in requirement. There are other considerations for these weapons such as the ballistics. Should it be a handgun caliber or carbine/rifle caliber? Mission planners have to consider all of this; they may find they need to have both options available.
The next step up in the capabilities continuum is the ability to engage targets beyond pistol distances effectively and more evenly match a well-armed adversary. In these instances, concealment becomes less important. In fact, sometimes it is beneficial to create a harder target or display force, and openly carrying a rifle does this well. I mentioned the issue earlier; some people prefer convenience to security, or they simply do not understand threat situation. I have seen teams deploy with rifles and secure them in arms rooms for the entire deployment. In addition, I know some teams carry these weapons buried in duffel bags inside locked car trunks. If they are in a trunk at the beginning of the attack, I question their usefulness. The weapons locker approach means you match the weapon to the mission, and you might not bring all available weapons on the mission. Nevertheless, if you brought the weapon with you for contingencies, being able to get to it in an emergency is important.
Teams easily overlook capabilities such as breaching and less-lethal munitions. I mention them together because my solution to these needs is the same; that solution is a shotgun. Some people will think I have been hanging out in Colorado too often when I mention protection teams and breaching in the same paragraph. We tend to think about SWAT, ERT, or SRT when we talk about breaching, but protection teams absolutely need this capability. Could you see a need to get beyond a locked door while evacuating your Principal? Do attacks always happen in close proximity to our pre-planned safe havens? I have had to remove my boss from hostile crowds where less-lethal munitions would have extremely helpful, and a shotgun is a very good choice for both of these needs. Many teams used to carry shotguns, but I suppose they lost their sex appeal over the years; I think removing them was a mistake.
I have been speaking about the close-in protection team primarily, and these are just a few issues and solutions. I could see a need for many more items including smoke or stun grenades, especially if my operations included a counter-assault (CAT) team. My intent is not to provide a comprehensive weapons and equipment list; it is to provoke thought into adequately assessing threat and determining mitigation measures. There is no perfect weapon for every job so having options matched to mission is critical. The implied task is to train for these additional skills and on the use of these non-standard weapons. So, do you need all those different guns? Guns are like golf clubs.
By Kevin Thompson